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High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel» Forums » Reviews

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Chris Blackford
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In a hobby filled with zombies, Great Old Ones, and endless farming, Victory Point Games has been a shining beacon of unique themes and gameplay. The moment I read about High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel, I knew it had a place in my collection. Like many, I didn’t know much about the trial despite having an interest, and education, in history. But that matters not, because the real star of the show is the game system: a card driven game reminiscent of classics such as Twilight Struggle. Both are games of battling for influence, but in High Treason you sway jurors rather than nations.

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I have enlisted the help of my good friend and gaming buddy, Casey, as he had a similar interest in the game. What we found is an interesting game of tug-of-war between the prosecution and defense in the infamous Canadian trial.

Components

The game is a part of VPG’s Gold Banner series, which means it comes with all of the charm I’ve come to expect from them. The first thing we see is the famous crimson pizza box with an attractive sleeve



Included are 100 laser-cut tokens and a napkin to wipe the sooty edges before playing. I’ve seen many compliments regarding VPG’s tokens, and I now understand why: they are wonderfully thick!



Tim Allen’s graphic design looks lovely on them, and the symbols are easily distinguishable. The same can be said for the game mat.



It’s unmounted, but it still feels solid. I do recommend plexiglass, or something similar, to lay over the map to flatten and protect it during play. Much of the hard to remember information is included at the top to keep players from referencing the rulebook, and this will prove especially useful for the first game or two.

Two player aids are included, with a reference for each round and small strategy guides. It’s helpful to see the best strategies for a certain side, however it may take some of the magic out of figuring it out for yourself. Of course, one could simply not read it if that’s the case, and it could also be argued that the games would become more tense if each side knows the weakness of the other. To each their own on that regard.

There are 50 Trial Cards and 12 Juror Cards, and these are the meat of the game. The cards are fairly thick and seem like they’ll hold up to repeated plays. The Trial Card backs are especially attractive, with the front being more practical than stylish.



Each card represents an important person, group, or event involved with the trial, including a picture and description. The flavor text on each card is a welcome addition, presenting a snippet of historical information about the trial. As an added benefit, players should learn at least a bit about the history surrounding the trial between the rulebook and cards.

Set Up

Players choose a side, with the Prosecution sitting on the red side of the mat and Defense on the blue. The track markers are placed in the bordered boxes of their respective Aspect track, and the Current Round and Insanity/Guilt Markers are placed at the beginning of their tracks. The 12 Juror Cards are placed, with 1 Religion, Language, and Occupation Aspect marker each. The remaining Aspect Markers are set aside, and the small Sway Tokens are put within easy reach.

Gameplay

Now, the part we’ve all been waiting for: How do you recreate a trial with some cards and tokens?!

The gameplay involves 3 motives for each player: swaying jurors, influencing Aspects of the trial, and providing Evidence of Guilt/Insanity. Each one is abstracted as a track, with the players attempting to sway each to their side.



The Aspect Tracks are numbered 1-10, with the Defense fighting for lower numbers and the prosecution fighting for higher numbers. To win, the Prosecution needs to earn 100+ points. The Defense needs to keep that total under 100 for success. Points come from the 3 Aspect Markers on a Juror, a sum of the 3 numbers found on that Aspect Track, which may be modified by the Sway Tokens on Juror Cards. For an example, using the tokens pictured above, let’s say we have an English Protestant Farmer as a juror. That would be 5+2+4= 11. Those sums from all 6 are totaled for the final score. So, the more you know about the Jury, the more focus you’ll have on where you’ll want to sway Aspects or Jurors. More details on how to score Juror Cards can be found in the Deliberation description.

There are 5 rounds: Jury Selection, Trial in Chief pt. 1, Trial in Chief pt. 2, Summation, Deliberation. The gameplay is roughly similar in all but deliberation: use your cards for actions or their events.



As you can see, each round has a separate event. A red background means only the prosecution player may use the event, blue for defense, and green for either player. The various uses for each cards makes hand management VERY tough sometimes. Do you hold the card for a powerful play later, or play it now to mess with your opponent?

Which brings us to Banking: For the first 3 rounds, players Bank 2 of their 7 cards (meaning 6 total) to use during the Summation round. So, the choice of saving vs. playing is an important part of the game. A powerful card could do much during the Trial rounds, but could it be more useful during the final Summation round? The decision can be agonizing, but it adds another level to the strategy each player chooses.

The game starts with Jury Selection, where the players try to find out as much as they can about the 12 initial jury members. This means peeking at (only one player may look) or revealing (for both to see) the 3 Aspects of the trial (Religion, Language, Occupation) that each Juror Card has. After each player plays their 5 cards, each dismisses 1 juror at a time until 6 remain. Each side has more sway over certain aspects, so the jurors chosen can have great influence over the final Deliberation round.

The Trial in Chief involves 2 rounds of playing 5 cards each and banking the last 2 cards left in each player’s hand. This is the main event of the game, and now players have to choose to use a card for its actions or events. Actions allow sway over Juror Cards and Aspect Tracks, pulling each to your side. Actions give players freedom in where they may sway, but could lead to “Locking” a track if that subject is the focus of the argument for too long. Each Aspect Track may be swayed 3 times until locked, with a varying number for Juror Cards, only to be cleared by a powerful and rare Attorney Card. Only events may influence Locked tracks, but also limit players on where they may do so.

The Summation is a time for players to get their “closing arguments” in. Your Banked cards are now used in a similar fashion to the Trial in Chief, with the Summation events or standard actions available for those 6 cards. The prosecution begins with 3 cards, the defense plays all 6, and the prosecution ends the game with their last 3 cards. This is an intense round. Much of the work in the previous Trial rounds could be undone by your opponent! It makes for an especially tense round, as it should.

Players need to keep on the Insanity and Evidence of Guilt tracks during the Trial and Summation. Events are the only way to do sway these “arguments.” Each track adds a bonus to its respective owner if the players do well enough, and the Prosecution MUST advance the Guilt Marker to the 2 space to have a chance to win. .

Last is the Deliberation. If the Prosecution didn’t advance their Evidence of Guilt track to the 2 space, the trial is over and the Defense won! Riel is acquitted! For every level above 2, the Prosecution gets more Sway Tokens to add to the Juror Cards. If enough evidence was provided, the players continue. If either player has Locked any jurors, they gain 1-3 extra actions, determined by the numerical value on the bottom of the Juror Card. Thematically, those jurors “echo your arguments” during deliberation, giving that player more sway. To calculate the score, each juror has a sum determined by the 3 Aspect Tokens on their card. Players add up the 3 numbers on the Aspect Tracks which apply to the juror, and any Defense Sway Markers on the card are subtracted from that total and any Prosecution Sway Markers are added. Locked jurors are DOUBLED if swayed toward the Prosecution, and HALVED if for the Defense. In the example given above, the Protestant English Farmer had 11 points. If he is swayed by the Prosecution with 3 markers, it would then be a total of 14 points for that Juror Card. Once all 6 sums are totaled, players check to see if the 100+ victory condition is met.

Thoughts
Casey: I knew right away that a trial game would be right up my alley. It's a concept that lends itself perfectly to a two-player game, and can often feel like a desperate struggle to sway people to your perspective. In this regard, High Treason exceeds expectations. During gameplay, it can often feel frantic as you pull jurors toward you, only to see the importance of issues slip away from you, while the sheer variety of cards gives you the option of always hunting for a new angle, a new strategy to get the points you need (if you're the Prosecutor) or keep your opponent from getting them (if you're the Defense). I especially enjoy the mechanic of saving two cards per round for the Summation; it truly makes it feel as though the round is the grand culmination of your efforts, the coup de grace of all your efforts during the trial proper… and to have your opponent sweep this away from you with their own powerful play feels suitably dramatic. If you're looking for a shorter but no less potent alternative to a game like Twilight Struggle, one with a less gradual buildup but no less a rewarding climax, I cannot but recommend VPG’s welcome addition to what I hope is a growing genre of intense, practical games.

Chris: I didn’t know what to expect from High Treason when I blindly pre-ordered it. This wasn’t it, but that’s a wonderful thing. I didn’t expect a 45 minute card driven game, full of depth and strategic offerings, but here it is. On top of that, it uses only 62 cards, 100 tokens, and a game mat. While this may not have the vast depth of heavier games with similar mechanisms, this is a fantastic option for people hoping to play a CDG in under an hour. Like the games it draws inspiration from, it’s not a difficult game to learn, but depth is there.

There are some unique ideas in the game, my favorite being how the cards play. The separate event for the different rounds gives players a tough decision on when to break out a strong card. Play it or Bank it? Banking is another lovely idea, allowing for greater control on when to sway with those strong cards. Both ideas are very clever, especially with regard to the theme.

We only have a few plays in, and it’s clear we still have much to explore in the game. Each side plays a bit differently and each has certain trial aspects to appeal to, but even that strategy must adapt to the current jury sitting in front of you. All-in-all, I'm very pleased and this is a welcome addition to my collection.

Ratings
Casey: 8.0 Thoroughly Enjoyable

Chris: 8.5 Excellent

Alex Berry has created an excellent game system, where players can get a taste of influencing jurors in the world’s most famous trials. The system could provide to be more than entertainment, as this game may be useful in classrooms or other educational settings. It does a fair job of abstracting challenges both the prosecution and defense may encounter during a trial in a short, simplified way. It’s also great to see the focus of the game set on the aspects of the trial rather than just the people involved. It also encourages players to learn a bit more about the history behind the trial. There’s a fair bit of information to spark and interest in the rules and flavor text alone. There are endless possibilities for the World on Trial game system, and I am eager to see where this line of games will go. I know Casey and I have some ideas mulling around for future trials, and I hope all of you do as well!
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Andy Andersen
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Great review. I know Alex Berry from his excellent video reviews but had no idea he was a designer.

Ordered.

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Chris Blackford
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Thanks for the kind words, Andy. The game is worth every penny, especially for the modest price VPG is asking for it. I hope you enjoy the game!
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Lance McMillan
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tucker8807 wrote:
I know Casey and I have some ideas mulling around for future trials, and I hope all of you do as well!


I know that a design for 'the Court Martial of Billy Mitchell' is already being worked on by a pair of former JAG officers, and I believe that one on the infamous 'Sacco and Vanzetti' case is also in the works.

The Dreyfuss case was also considered as an obvious subject for a game using this system, but in examining the procedures used by French military courts at the time they decided against it. In large part this was because the military jurors were appointed (hand picked might be a more accurate term) by the convening authority and there were no provisions for excusing them after they'd been selected (indeed, calling their "impartiality" into question constituted grounds for bringing the defense counsel up on charges of insubordination). Effectively, in game terms, the prosectution would get to examine all the cards and then stack the deck before the game even begins -- not much of a game for the person playing the defense.
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Alan Emrich
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Thanks, guys! This was a fun game to develop and an honor to publish. The ardent support (and eternal patience) of the designer really made it all possible. Alex has really come up with a great trial game system.

We do hope that others will create a great historical trial (many are listed on the back of the rules book). Yes, it means some research (that others will enjoy discovering during play), but what a great game to have your name associated with as its designer!

Alan Emrich
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tim allen
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I ordered two, because Riel!
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Chris Blackford
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Lancer4321 wrote:
I know that a design for 'the Court Martial of Billy Mitchell' is already being worked on by a pair of former JAG officers, and I believe that one on the infamous 'Sacco and Vanzetti' case is also in the works.


Wow, nobody is messing around over at VPG, that's great to hear! I'm going to have to keep a close eye on future news, my interest has certainly been piqued. As sad as I am to hear the Dreyfus Case may not see the light of day, I appreciate the focus on historical accuracy.

Alan Emrich wrote:
Thanks, guys! This was a fun game to develop and an honor to publish. The ardent support (and eternal patience) of the designer really made it all possible. Alex has really come up with a great trial game system.


You're welcome, and thanks! Alex created a winner here, and I appreciate all of you at VPG for delivering it to the world.
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Alex Berry
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Thanks for the Excellent Review Chris, appreciate it, and appreciate Alan and VPG for taking a chance on a unique design.


Orangemoose wrote:
Great review. I know Alex Berry from his excellent video reviews but had no idea he was a designer.

This is partially why my review output has slowed lately, game design now holds more attraction to me than reviewing.
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Chris Blackford
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Tuttle757 wrote:
Thanks for the Excellent Review Chris, appreciate it, and appreciate Alan and VPG for taking a chance on a unique design.


My pleasure, we've had a great time exploring the game.
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Florent Leguern
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Great review, one that sparked a sudden interest in Louis Riel ^^ This is a subject matter that will also greatly interest my wife, I'm sure. And as it's a two player game, it's perfect. And it's a trial game ! Now, instead of playing Phoenix Writh together, we're gonna challenge one another... coolblush

No kidding, I'm actually considiring ordering this right this instant... If I can find somewhere to buy it in Europe
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Chris Blackford
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Thanks, Eawyne! I hope you can find a copy in Europe, it's a great game. I have a feeling you and your wife would have fun.
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Chris Blackford
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Mad Igor wrote:
Thank you for your review. Just ordered. 2 copies, as I expext a lot of tear and wear ;-)


Mad Igor, I'd say you're not mad at all, just practical. I'm sure you're going to enjoy it, it's a fun game!
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Lee Benson
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Great review. This was super informative and thorough. I'm strongly considering buying this game but had a question. During the game, did you feel that gameplay was more-or-less intuitive? Did you understand how the choices you made were going to influence the eventual outcome? I ask because it seems that, to some extent, the way things interact isn't readily apparent.

(Anyone in this thread who has input is welcome to answer this question as well, of course!)
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Mike Szarka
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Zepheus wrote:
Great review. This was super informative and thorough. I'm strongly considering buying this game but had a question. During the game, did you feel that gameplay was more-or-less intuitive? Did you understand how the choices you made were going to influence the eventual outcome? I ask because it seems that, to some extent, the way things interact isn't readily apparent.

(Anyone in this thread who has input is welcome to answer this question as well, of course!)


You are, to some extent, playing hunches, because you don't know the biases of all of the jurors. But you have other levers to pull as well, influencing and locking individual jurors, or working on the guilt/insanity tracks. I'd say it is pretty intuitive. But there are not always easy choices.
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Michael McLean
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I think Mike hit the nail on the head. You have a pretty good idea that what you're doing is working, but there's always some uncertainty because you feel like there's SO much you NEED to do, but only so much time to get it all done.

So, the game play is intuitive, but you still feel that struggle to get your points in with the resources available. It's very taut.
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Chris Blackford
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Excellent question, Lee. Mike and Michael did an excellent job explaining it. I just wanted to confirm YES to both answers. The rule book is easy to digest, the gameplay is intuitive, and the players directly influence events during the trial, so your decisions will be apparent in the outcome.
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Alan Emrich
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...but don't be surprised if you do what one playtester did: she yelled at the jury cards while they were being SWAYed against her, "Don't listen to him! Listen to me!" ;-)

Alan Emrich
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Chris Stoakes
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Great review - plus the appreciation for sooty, laser-cut pieces, thin playing mat and pizza box. Always surprised when people denigrate the charms that make VPG different.
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David Dockter
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Some recent love from First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society and this review just caused another sale.
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